When you think of America as an outsider, you think of certain places: New York, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Chicago, San Francisco. They’re shown in movies and TV shows all the time, recognised by their skylines or by their landmarks or by, err, their psychopaths, natural disasters and terrorist atrocities. So when I planned my month-long train trip around the entire country with an Amtrak rail pass limiting me to 12 “segments”, or journeys, those places were first on the list. But I also picked Salt Lake City in Utah, mainly as a halfway point along the California Zephyr route from San Francisco to Chicago, which takes about two days if you ride it straight through. That’s some hardcore train-ing if you’re prepared to do it. I wasn’t.
Salt Lake City was towards the end of the trip and up to that point encounters with everyone I spoke to went along these lines:
Person: So, where’s this trip taking you?
Chirpy: New Orleans, San Antonio, LA, Vegas, San Fran, Salt Lake City, Chicago-
Person: Salt Lake City?
Person: Why? Skip it, go somewhere more exciting. Stay in San Fran longer. You’ll love it there. They have hippies and Alcatraz and Google and hills and a big red bridge. Everyone loves San Fran.
But no one ever convinced me. I never seriously considered avoiding Salt Lake City. I didn’t know anything about the place other than the two big Ms: Mormons and Mountains. You might, if you were a fan of disappointing chocolate treats, call it the M&M combination. Having spent my spring break with my flatmate’s friend’s family in a tiny redneck town in Tennessee, I knew the less-famous places could be as equally memorable as your New Yorks and Chicagos.
And so it proved.
Five days earlier I was flying over the Grand Canyon in a helicopter but the most naturally stunning place I visited in America was the area around Salt Lake City. Specifically, Antelope Island on the Great Salt Lake.
I was staying with a self-employed web developer in Salt Lake City itself. His new girlfriend was staying with him who had herself been couchsurfing with him less than two months beforehand. My host was busy with work on my second day so his girlfriend, let’s call her Girlfriend, drove me to Antelope Island. Or rather, she drove us to Antelope Island. She wasn’t really showing me around; she was using me as an excuse to show herself around. She hadn’t spent much time exploring the area since arriving, presumably because she was too busy helping her web developer with his code, if y’know what I mean.
By all accounts, there’s not much at Antelope Island — not even a single fucking antelope — but that might be why I loved it so much. To even access the island you have to drive across a strip of road several miles in length. There’s a range of snow-capped mountains rising up in the rear-view mirror, there’s a massive expanse of motionless water out of both side windows and there’s nothing in front of you but the road and the promise of a quiet day out.
We parked up by the water’s edge (well, in the car park; we weren’t monsters) and ate our Subways sitting on the sand with our feet in the Great Salt Lake itself. There were a few other folks around, enjoying a regular Thursday.
Fun aside about buying those Subways: we were queuing in the Subway somewhere on the journey to Antelope Island when some middle-aged woman allegedly said about me (I was out of earshot), “Boy, I could look at him all day.” And I’m sure I saw her positively swoon after she heard me order my Subway in my quaint Harry Potter accent. Good to know I have a market among 40-something housewives from Utah if all else fails.
We had our lunch then headed into the water. The floating effect wasn’t as profound as in the Dead Sea (man, I love that I can make that comparison), but lying spread-eagled in the water, staring back at snow-capped mountains 5000 miles from home in the company of a cute girl…
Sorry, where was I?
After showering at the provided showers and drying off in the sun, we drove around the island some, checking out the viewpoints and seeing some buffalo. At one point we drove down a dirt track, got out of the car at the end of it and walked into a field. Normally, that’s okay – not exciting, perhaps, but not dangerous. Unfortunately for us, that field was home to more bugs than there are in WarZ. We learnt our lesson after that and didn’t explore too much off the beaten track.
I suppose, all in all, it was about an enjoyable day out. Antelope Island on the Great Salt Lake in Utah might not be the most stunning place in the world but throw in some great company, a flattering encounter in a Subway and some time spent floating in silence in the Great Salt Lake itself, and you have what I would describe as one of the most memorable days of my life.
Still wish I could’ve seen an antelope though.
For anyone else like me who likes quiet places that other people would find more tedious than a conversation about potted shrubs, check out my post on Lake Erie (there’s also a giant teddy bear involved, if that helps).